With the signing of veteran Orlando Scandrick along with three young defensive backs in line for bigger roles, the Redskins' secondary is confident they're in store for more success this season.
The Washington Redskins secondary was bursting with talent in 2017, boasting a dominant combination of Josh Norman, Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland, D.J. Swearinger and Deshazor Everett at its core. But following an offseason of change, this unit is set to quite a bit different in 2018 with a veteran addition and the opportunity for younger players to take on more prominent roles.
This offseason has seen the departure of several contributors to the Redskins secondary, including a pair of starting cornerbacks. Fuller, an emerging talent in the slot, was sent to Kansas
City as part of the Alex Smith acquisition and Breeland moved on as well, initially signing a deal with the Carolina Panthers before failing a physical. Both were playmakers last season, with Fuller tying for a team-leading four interceptions and Breeland leading the defense with 19 passes defended.
To help fill the void left by Fuller and Breeland, the Redskins signed veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys and agreeing to terms on a contract extension with Quinton Dunbar.
"Obviously signing Orlando is a big piece," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. "A guy with that type of experience, he can play outside, he can play inside."
Scandrick will provide a starting option for Washington and potentially act as a bridge while Dunbar and second-year cornerback Fabian Moreau solidify their positions in the secondary.
He will also add veteran leadership to the secondary, edging out Norman as the most experienced member of the position group.
"I'm going to bring competitiveness, leadership, tenacity – just that attitude and just whatever [we] need," Scandrick said after signing with Washington.
Norman, who is entering his third season with the Redskins, had nine passes defended and two forced fumbles last year. He remains a shutdown player in the defensive backfield despite not recording an interception last season, a statistic that is ultimately a reflection of opposing quarterbacks avoiding him whenever possible.
In addition to the veterans, the Redskins will also look to their younger defensive backs to take a step forward in 2018. Two of their corners, Moreau and Dunbar, are still relatively new to the position. Both are expected to step up and have an impact in the secondary this season.
"Dunbar, he's been playing defensive back for a whole three years now," Gruden said. "I think he's ready to step up and really take the position over. Fabian Moreau, obviously we drafted him out of UCLA for a reason. He's only been playing defensive back for a short period of time also, transitioning from running back. Both of those guys have an incredible skillset and we expect a lot out of them."
Dunbar played in 15 games last season, including four starts, racking up 35 total tackles, eight passes defended and an interception. On the heels of a new contract extension, he should be in line for more work this fall.
Moreau was a projected first-round talent before suffering a pectoral injury at his college pro day and falling to Washington in the third round. He was primarily a contributor on special teams last year and is likely to see his role expand after the departures of Breeland and Fuller.
"I think he's got the chance to be a true lockdown corner for us," Gruden said of Moreau. "He's physical. He can run. He's done great on special teams as a flyer, but like you said, he hasn't gotten the opportunity because of Bree and Dunny [Quinton Dunbar] and Josh. His opportunity will come and it will come soon."
The Redskins safeties group also experienced some turnover this offseason, with veteran DeAngelo Hall still in free agency. Washington also acquired draft picks and swapped selections in the fourth and fifth rounds in a trade with the Denver Broncos that included Su'a Cravens.
Swearinger, who had a career year in his first season with the Redskins, will once again be a vocal and physical contributor at the backend of the defense. He racked up 10 passes defended, four interceptions and a forced fumble in his first year with the Redskins. Swearinger credits his success in part to his move to free safety.
"I like to play free safety because a lot of people don't think I can play free safety," he said with a smile. "I once was known as a box safety in Houston because they had me playing in the box. If you don't put me in the position to show off my range, you won't be able to see it."
Swearinger will likely be paired with a player the Redskins are excited about in second-year safety Montae Nicholson.
Despite being selected in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Nicholson made an impression before being placed on Injured Reserve late in the season.
"Montae I think is really an important piece," Gruden said. "Very similar to the way Jordan Reed is on [offense], Montae is on defense. He can cover so much ground. He makes all the defensive backs a little bit more comfortable and take a little bit more chances because he's back there roaming. We need him back there."
With a pair of returning veterans in Swearinger and Norman and plenty of young talent behind them, the secondary will look to build on their success during last year's campaign.
After watching their division rivals win the Super Bowl, Norman already has his eyes on the prize for 2018.
"At the end of the day, we're all out here trying to win this game right here that [the Eagles] won," Norman said. "I hate that they won it, I wish we could have done it. But we're preparing ourselves for that."
Swearinger has no doubts that the group can put together a winning season in 2018.
"I think we have a lot of talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball," he said. "I think the sky is the limit for our defense."